A room in King John’s castle.
(King John; Pembroke; Salisbury; Lords; Hubert; Messenger; Philip the Bastard; Peter of Pomfret)
King John has had himself crowned a second time, but his nobility objects to him that this was superfluous. Still, since they acquiesced to this, they now request that he free Arthur. John agrees just as Hubert shows up and claims that the boy is dead. The nobles immediately accuse John of murder and desert him. A messenger arrives with the news that both Elinor and Constance are dead and that a French army under Lewis has landed in Kent. The Bastard returns with his takings from the monasteries and tales of popular unrest, including the prophecies of Peter of Pomfret, who has predicted that the King will yield up his crown. Peter insists he speaks true, and John has him locked up. The Bastard is sent to try and induce the nobles to return to John’s side. Hubert tells John of the presages and omens seen by the people, and how discontent is spreading with the news of Arthur’s death. John turns on him and blames him for the murder, but Hubert reminds him it was his own order, and finally tells him that Arthur is still alive. John sends him to tell the nobles this. (276 lines)
Enter King John, Pembroke, Salisbury, and other Lords.
Here once again we sit; once again crown’d,
And look’d upon, I hope, with cheerful eyes.
This “once again” (but that your Highness pleas’d)
Was once superfluous. You were crown’d before,
And that high royalty was ne’er pluck’d off;
The faiths of men ne’er stained with revolt;
Fresh expectation troubled not the land
With any long’d-for change or better state.
Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
But that your royal pleasure must be done,
This act is as an ancient tale new told,
And, in the last repeating, troublesome,
Being urged at a time unseasonable.
In this the antique and well-noted face
Of plain old form is much disfigured,
And like a shifted wind unto a sail,
It makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,
Startles and frights consideration,
Makes sound opinion sick, and truth suspected,
For putting on so new a fashion’d robe.
When workmen strive to do better than well,
They do confound their skill in covetousness,
And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by th’ excuse:
As patches set upon a little breach
Discredit more in hiding of the fault
Than did the fault before it was so patch’d.
To this effect, before you were new crown’d,
We breath’d our counsel; but it pleas’d your Highness
To overbear it, and we are all well pleas’d,
Since all and every part of what we would
Doth make a stand at what your Highness will.
Some reasons of this double coronation
I have possess’d you with, and think them strong;
And more, more strong than lesser is my fear,
I shall indue you with. Mean time but ask
What you would have reform’d that is not well,
And well shall you perceive how willingly
I will both hear and grant you your requests.
Then I, as one that am the tongue of these
To sound the purposes of all their hearts,
Both for myself and them—but, chief of all,
Your safety, for the which myself and them
Bend their best studies—heartily request
Th’ enfranchisement of Arthur, whose restraint
Doth move the murmuring lips of discontent
To break into this dangerous argument:
If what in rest you have in right you hold,
Why then your fears, which (as they say) attend
The steps of wrong, should move you to mew up
Your tender kinsman, and to choke his days
With barbarous ignorance, and deny his youth
The rich advantage of good exercise.
That the time’s enemies may not have this
To grace occasions, let it be our suit
That you have bid us ask his liberty,
Which for our goods we do no further ask
Than whereupon our weal, on you depending,
Counts it your weal he have his liberty.
Let it be so; I do commit his youth
To your direction. Hubert, what news with you?
Taking him aside.
This is the man should do the bloody deed;
He show’d his warrant to a friend of mine.
The image of a wicked heinous fault
Lives in his eye; that close aspect of his
Doth show the mood of a much troubled breast,
And I do fearfully believe ’tis done,
What we so fear’d he had a charge to do.
The color of the King doth come and go
Between his purpose and his conscience,
Like heralds ’twixt two dreadful battles set:
His passion is so ripe, it needs must break.
And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
The foul corruption of a sweet child’s death.
We cannot hold mortality’s strong hand.
Good lords, although my will to give is living,
The suit which you demand is gone and dead.
He tells us Arthur is deceas’d tonight.
Indeed we fear’d his sickness was past cure.
Indeed we heard how near his death he was
Before the child himself felt he was sick.
This must be answer’d either here or hence.
Why do you bend such solemn brows on me?
Think you I bear the shears of destiny?
Have I commandment on the pulse of life?
It is apparent foul play, and ’tis shame
That greatness should so grossly offer it.
So thrive it in your game! And so farewell.
Stay yet, Lord Salisbury, I’ll go with thee,
And find th’ inheritance of this poor child,
His little kingdom of a forced grave.
That blood which ow’d the breadth of all this isle,
Three foot of it doth hold; bad world the while!
This must not be thus borne. This will break out
To all our sorrows, and ere long I doubt.
They burn in indignation. I repent.
There is no sure foundation set on blood;
No certain life achiev’d by others’ death.
A fearful eye thou hast. Where is that blood
That I have seen inhabit in those cheeks?
So foul a sky clears not without a storm,
Pour down thy weather. How goes all in France?
From France to England. Never such a pow’r
For any foreign preparation
Was levied in the body of a land.
The copy of your speed is learn’d by them;
For when you should be told they do prepare,
The tidings comes that they are all arriv’d.
O, where hath our intelligence been drunk?
Where hath it slept? Where is my mother’s care,
That such an army could be drawn in France,
And she not hear of it?
My liege, her ear
Is stopp’d with dust: the first of April died
Your noble mother; and as I hear, my lord,
The Lady Constance in a frenzy died
Three days before; but this from rumor’s tongue
I idly heard—if true or false I know not.
Withhold thy speed, dreadful occasion!
O, make a league with me, till I have pleas’d
My discontented peers! What? Mother dead?
How wildly then walks my estate in France!
Under whose conduct came those pow’rs of France
That thou for truth giv’st out are landed here?
Under the Dauphin.
Enter Bastard and Peter of Pomfret.
Thou hast made me giddy
With these ill tidings.—Now! What says the world
To your proceedings? Do not seek to stuff
My head with more ill news, for it is full.
But if you be afeard to hear the worst,
Then let the worst unheard fall on your head.
Bear with me, cousin, for I was amaz’d
Under the tide; but now I breathe again
Aloft the flood, and can give audience
To any tongue, speak it of what it will.
How I have sped among the clergymen
The sums I have collected shall express.
But as I travel’d hither through the land,
I find the people strangely fantasied,
Possess’d with rumors, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.
And here’s a prophet that I brought with me
From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found
With many hundreds treading on his heels;
To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rhymes,
That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon,
Your Highness should deliver up your crown.
Thou idle dreamer, wherefore didst thou so?
Foreknowing that the truth will fall out so.
Hubert, away with him; imprison him;
And on that day at noon, whereon he says
I shall yield up my crown, let him be hang’d.
Deliver him to safety, and return,
For I must use thee.
Exit Hubert with Peter.
O my gentle cousin,
Hear’st thou the news abroad, who are arriv’d?
The French, my lord; men’s mouths are full of it.
Besides, I met Lord Bigot and Lord Salisbury,
With eyes as red as new-enkindled fire,
And others more, going to seek the grave
Of Arthur, whom they say is kill’d tonight
On your suggestion.
Gentle kinsman, go
And thrust thyself into their companies;
I have a way to win their loves again.
Bring them before me.
I will seek them out.
Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.
O, let me have no subject enemies
When adverse foreigners affright my towns
With dreadful pomp of stout invasion!
Be Mercury, set feathers to thy heels,
And fly, like thought, from them to me again.
The spirit of the time shall teach me speed.
Spoke like a sprightful noble gentleman.
Go after him; for he perhaps shall need
Some messenger betwixt me and the peers,
And be thou he.
With all my heart, my liege.
My mother dead!
My lord, they say five moons were seen tonight;
Four fixed, and the fifth did whirl about
The other four in wondrous motion.
Old men and beldames in the streets
Do prophesy upon it dangerously.
Young Arthur’s death is common in their mouths,
And when they talk of him, they shake their heads,
And whisper one another in the ear;
And he that speaks doth gripe the hearer’s wrist,
Whilst he that hears makes fearful action
With wrinkled brows, with nods, with rolling eyes.
I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus,
The whilst his iron did on the anvil cool,
With open mouth swallowing a tailor’s news,
Who, with his shears and measure in his hand,
Standing on slippers, which his nimble haste
Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet,
Told of a many thousand warlike French
That were embattailed and rank’d in Kent.
Another lean unwash’d artificer
Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur’s death.
Why seek’st thou to possess me with these fears?
Why urgest thou so oft young Arthur’s death?
Thy hand hath murd’red him. I had a mighty cause
To wish him dead, but thou hadst none to kill him.
No had, my lord? Why, did you not provoke me?
It is the curse of kings to be attended
By slaves that take their humors for a warrant
To break within the bloody house of life,
And on the winking of authority
To understand a law; to know the meaning
Of dangerous majesty, when perchance it frowns
More upon humor than advis’d respect.
Here is your hand and seal for what I did.
O, when the last accompt ’twixt heaven and earth
Is to be made, then shall this hand and seal
Witness against us to damnation!
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Make deeds ill done! Hadst not thou been by,
A fellow by the hand of nature mark’d,
Quoted, and sign’d to do a deed of shame,
This murder had not come into my mind;
But taking note of thy abhorr’d aspect,
Finding thee fit for bloody villainy,
Apt, liable to be employ’d in danger,
I faintly broke with thee of Arthur’s death;
And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince.
Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause
When I spake darkly what I purposed,
Or turn’d an eye of doubt upon my face,
As bid me tell my tale in express words,
Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off,
And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me.
But thou didst understand me by my signs,
And didst in signs again parley with sin,
Yea, without stop, didst let thy heart consent,
And consequently thy rude hand to act
The deed, which both our tongues held vild to name.
Out of my sight, and never see me more!
My nobles leave me, and my state is braved,
Even at my gates, with ranks of foreign pow’rs;
Nay, in the body of this fleshly land,
This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath,
Hostility and civil tumult reigns
Between my conscience and my cousin’s death.
Arm you against your other enemies,
I’ll make a peace between your soul and you.
Young Arthur is alive. This hand of mine
Is yet a maiden and an innocent hand,
Not painted with the crimson spots of blood.
Within this bosom never ent’red yet
The dreadful motion of a murderous thought,
And you have slander’d nature in my form,
Which howsoever rude exteriorly,
Is yet the cover of a fairer mind
Than to be butcher of an innocent child.
Doth Arthur live? O, haste thee to the peers,
Throw this report on their incensed rage,
And make them tame to their obedience!
Forgive the comment that my passion made
Upon thy feature, for my rage was blind,
And foul imaginary eyes of blood
Presented thee more hideous than thou art.
O, answer not! But to my closet bring
The angry lords with all expedient haste.
I conjure thee but slowly; run more fast.